- Jason Davis

Thank god for small miracles, like the MLS season starting before the MLS season actually starts. Training matches are nice, even if we only know those games are happening through official Twitter accounts and the geekiest live chats of all time, but a real game tonight, a full three weeks before the league schedule kicks off, is an uplifting thing for this soccer soul.

There's a lot riding on this series, Real Salt Lake facing Columbus in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League. The winner will have the best shot in recent memory to bring home the title for MLS, thereby shedding the league of the heavy weight that comes with regular continental failure. We'll have our first glimpse at an RSL side most think will contend for MLS Cup and a Columbus team in the larval stage of a rebuilding process. Tonight's first leg in Columbus will be cold, sparsely attended, and probably fairly ugly considering the stage of the pre-season each team is in and the conditions they'll be facing. Cold, rusty soccer.

That's okay, really. Whether it's a stroke fortune or due to a massaging of the bracket, the two MLS teams facing each other in this round means it doesn't really matter if the soccer is ugly. One of the two teams will have the chance to knock off a non-Mexican side in the semifinals, a series that starts just before MLS season gets underway. Presumably, that means the MLS club would be closer to full readiness, making an win, and a showdown with a Mexican side in the finals, more likely. For the curse finally be broken, the league needs everything to fall their way.

Which means everyone who is not a Crew fan should be rooting for RSL tonight. No offense to Columbus (whose fans know their club has a lot to prove at the moment), but RSL represents the best hope for MLS to break through in the Champions League. They play the best (read: most attractive) soccer, they have quality throughout their lineup, they run an excellent organization that is becoming the MLS standard, and they're good enough to win the whole tournament. A solid first step toward the semifinals tonight would but many MLS fans' minds at ease.

I'm tempted to predict a thrashing, simply because RSL is a proven quantity and Columbus is in flux, but I'm resisting. MLS doesn't work that way, with the better side just walking into town and running roughshod. Even an unknown Columbus represents a bit of danger for RSL, and the longer the game goes without a goal from the Utahans, the more troublesome the situation becomes. If RSL get an early goal, they should cruise. For those of us desperate to see RSL move on in the tournament, that's probably the best possible outcome.

Considering Columbus is starting the recently signed Ray Burse (who, if memory serves, hasn't played since being cut by FC Dallas in 2009 [!!!!]) in goal, it's hard to see things going well for the Crew.

Should Columbus lose at home, they'll be buried. No one is going to give them much of a shot of pulling out a win at Rio Tinto, where RSL simply doesn't lose. Tonight is either the beginning of the end for Columbus, or, should they manage something rather shocking, a stay of execution.

My only prediction is that RSL scores two. I have little confidence in Columbus, but doesn't mean they can't surprise with a scrappy goal or a solid defensive effort.

A subplot to tonight's game is the potential statement Real Salt Lake can make about their league prospects. Coming up short last year, when they finished just off the Supporters Shield but failed to show up against FC Dallas in the playoffs, should be all the motivation they need to get off to a good start. Playing before everyone else, with the eyes of the league upon them, they have the opportunity to reassert themselves as the league's best. From a confidence perspective, that could be massive. The need to be ready to play competitive matches three weeks before everyone else is either a "head start" (should they play well against the Crew over the two legs) or a distinct disadvantage due to summer fatigue possibly setting in earlier than it might have otherwise. A fast league start, like the Galaxy had last year, would go a long way in determining if they can meet their goal of a overall first place finish.

If tonight is easy for them, it will put the rest of the league on notice as to who the pacesetters will be come First Kick.

blog comments powered by Disqus
    KKTC Bahis Siteleri, Online Bahis



    Privacy Policy